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Behind the Headlines: Bomb Discovered in Moscow Shul Heightens Security Fears in Russia

A rabbi’s 12-year-old son has prevented a bomb from going off inside a Moscow synagogue.

The incident at the Bolshaya Bronnaya shul — in which no one was hurt — came less than two weeks after a Moscow Jewish leader was stabbed inside another synagogue in the Russian capital.

The incident is likely to exacerbate already-simmering anger within the Jewish community as promises for heightened security at Jewish sites continue to go unmet.

The son of Lubavitch Rabbi Itzhak Kogan discovered the bomb Sunday in the synagogue’s main hall a few minutes before a ceremony for a young boy’s first haircut was set to begin. The synagogue was packed with a large number of small children and was decorated with balloons.

A bomb squad detonated the explosive nearby. The explosion shattered window panes at the shul and in neighboring buildings.

"It’s a miracle that no one was hurt," Itzhak Kogan told JTA minutes after the bomb was detonated.

Dozens of Jews who were evacuated from the synagogue burst into applause when they heard the powerful explosion.

"It could have gone off when we were inside," said a young woman who was inside the shul when the bomb was found. "I still can’t believe it. We could have been killed," she said, her lips trembling.

According to a Federal Security Service agent who did not give his name, the bomb contained an equivalent of more than one pound of TNT.

In the wake of the July 13 stabbing of Leopold Kaimovsky at the Choral Synagogue, Russian authorities vowed to tighten up security measures at all Moscow synagogues that are currently guarded by private security agencies.

These promises have yet to be fulfilled.

Jewish officials say they are not surprised because a similar failure to follow up on security promises occurred after bomb blasts near two Moscow synagogues in May.

In the meantime, Jewish communal leaders are busy upgrading security measures themselves at Jewish sites in Russia.

The changes are evident at the Choral Synagogue, where visitors are now required to pass though an airport-style security system.

Jewish officials say they are preparing to introduce similar measures, which have become commonplace in many Moscow restaurants and office buildings, at most Jewish sites in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.

Currently, only two Moscow synagogues have adequate security systems, while schools, offices of Jewish organizations and soup kitchens lack even the basic measures.

Increased security, of course, translates into increased costs, and with this in mind, the Moscow community established this week a special foundation to raise funds in Russia and abroad to provide communal institutions with updated security.

Information about the Security Foundation of the Russian Jewish Community can be obtained in English on the Web at the following address: www.chat.ru/~jsfund

"We are witnessing a surge of anti-Semitism. This does not mean that people don’t see a future here anymore. What we have to do now is to struggle for this future, to learn to protect ourselves," said Pavel Feldblum, the executive vice president of the newly created Moscow Jewish Community.

The community, created recently by 40 prominent Jews, is seeking to unite the Jewish organizations that operate in Moscow.

The board of the Moscow community includes prominent businessmen, lawyers, Russia’s former foreign minister, the coach of the national basketball team and a top-ranked police official.

One of the country’s best-known men entertainers was named president of the group.

Comedian Gennady Khazanov, known as "Russia’s Bob Hope," said he understood only recently the importance of being personally involved in the Jewish community.

"You can give concerts here or abroad, yet there is a more meaningful way you can try to make a difference with your life" said Khazanov, 55.

Last week, after the synagogue stabbing, Khazanov made several television appearances as president of the community.

Sporting a white silk yarmulka — something he had rarely done before — the famous comedian focused public attention on the incident.

"When we started building the Russian Jewish Congress, many Jews who have weight in society tried to distance themselves from the community," said Vladimir Goussinsky, the president of the Russian Jewish Congress, the leading domestic underwriter of Jewish life. "That these people are joining us today is a positive sign."

Nor is Khazanov the only public figure who has been prompted by the stabbing incident to come out of the Jewish closet.

Former foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev, who is partly Jewish, said the current surge of anti-Semitism has prompted him to join the recently created group.

As its first goal, the Moscow Jewish Community plans to raise and distribute $800,000 for existing communal projects in the capital.

"The overall goal of the new structure is to raise Jewish pride and Jewish self-consciousness" among non-affiliated Jews, said Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt said that when more prominent figures are not ashamed to publicly associate with the community, more Russian Jews will publicly affirm their Jewish roots.

Meanwhile, reports in the mainstream Russian press this week are accelerating concerns about an even larger surge in anti-Semitism.

Several newspapers criticized former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for saying that a battle between two of Russia’s leading business tycoons was a struggle between "two Jews."

Commenting on an unprecedented media war between the ORT channel, controlled by Boris Berezovsky, and NTV, owned by Vladimir Goussinsky, Chernomyrdin told a news conference in Moscow, "It comes out that two Jews have clashed, and now the whole country has to watch this farce."

Many Jewish officials and ordinary Jews said they were shocked by the comment from Chernomyrdin, who had not previously made public anti-Semitic remarks.

In a front-page article, Russia’s leading business daily Kommersant wrote that the remark was an indication of a looming "anti-Semitic epidemic" in advance of this December’s parliamentary election.

In Washington, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry urged Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to speak out against the recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents when he visits the United States next week.

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